THE former Lancashire Telegraph building in the heart of Blackburn is set to be turned into luxury apartments as part of a £3million investment.
An application has been submitted to build 66 flats with car parking spaces in the four-storey Railway Road building, known as Newspaper House.
Developers have said the move will aid the regeneration of the area with the building located opposite the £34m landmark Cathedral Square complex.
With 'city living' high on the agenda, Blackburn with Darwen Council welcomed the plans which they hope will boost the night-time economy.
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The building was sold for £850,000 earlier this year to Doncaster-based Empire Property Concepts, which has said it will spend £2.5m to £3m on transforming the building.
Managing director Paul Rothwell said the firm was keen to respect the identity of the building, including keeping the name and the adjacent historic Roman spring, which dates back to 598AD.
He said: "We are looking to regenerate the building and the area has had a lot of money spent on it.
"Our business model is to take disused office buildings or those that no longer have a use and develop them.
"This site is ripe to develop into apartments under the government's permitted development scheme."
He said the flats would will be one to two bedroomed for private sale or rental aimed at young working professionals.
"We plan to make modern apartments inside and will make the building look more attractive, whether it means changing windows or re-rendering it. We will give it a new lease of life," he said.
"It is next to the railway station which is convenient for people commuting out of town for work to places like Manchester or for those who work in Blackburn.
"It is right next to the shopping centre and the cathedral. It is investing in the centre and will add to that area.
"We feel it will be a really positive thing for Blackburn as it has been for other towns we have developed in. It brings people into the town centre.
"More and more people will be living there. They need shops, supermarkets, cafes and bars. I think it will help regenerate it."
He said if the application was given the go-ahead the apartments could be ready in nine to 12 months, with local contractors used for the building work.
He said: "We will retain the name. I believe there is a well on site which is of some historic significance.
"We will be preserving that for the future. Anything like that is worth maintaining for the heritage of the building."
The All Hallows Spring, between the Adelphi pub and building, is believed to have been the site of a Roman temple and a place of medieval ‘pilgrimage and healing’ which eventually led to the development of the cathedral.
Cllr Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen's regeneration boss, said: "City living is the next big idea that we want to develop in Blackburn town centre and hopefully this is a proposal that will help make that happen.
"It is the first major apartment block in the centre and we are hopeful this will encourage more owners with vacant premises to think about potential usage for them.
"It gets people into the town and rather than it being just a destination it becomes a home.
"It will make a difference to the evening economy. It's a great place for young people to live."
Former MP Jack Straw also welcomed the move.
He said: "I think it is a great idea. I am sad the Telegraph has moved from the site where it has been ever since it was established as the Northern Daily Telegraph but it is good that the building will be used this way.
"The Cathedral Quarter is working. It had great imagination and great resources put into it over the last decade.
"Going back to the development of the railway station in 1999 and the Blackburn Youth Zone and Cathedral Square - it has changed dramatically.
"It is the grand entrance to the town and it looks infinitely better than it did when I came to the town 40 years ago.
"It has worked elsewhere. Town centre apartments are generally made for young people without children. That is true in other towns and cities. It is a great help for the night time economy."
Harriet Roberts, Blackburn BID manager, said: “In order to survive town and city centres need to have a good mix of residential, retail, restaurants and businesses, so this should be welcomed as a positive move.”
Empire Property Concepts has transformed office blocks into residential blocks across Yorkshire including in Doncaster and Wakefield.
Businesswoman Margo Grimshaw, whose plan to develop 79 apartments around Fleming Street collapsed amid financial difficulties in 2009, said she thought the site would be better used for offices.
She said: “I think it would be better used commercially but I have no objections to apartments.
“You would have to be selective with tenants. I think it would be okay with young professionals but I would be worried about the risk if children were able to get out onto the busy road.”